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Beall ‘Appalachian Inspiration’ Viola Sonataa. Piano Quintetb. Wondrous Love Variationsc b Mikylah Myers McTeer vn ac Stephen Beall, bAndrea Priester Houde va b William Skidmore vc bAndrew Kohn db ac Carol Beall, bJames Miltenberger pf Ravello F RR7887 (63’ • DDD)
For more than 35 years John Beall has been Composer in Residence at West Virginia
University in Morgantown, exploring the rich vein of traditional Appalachian music deriving from English, Scottish and Irish folk music sources. Here three profoundly conservative works written over a 10-year span beginning in 1999 demonstrate not only the composer’s authentic embrace of cultural influences but also his keen ear for string-writing.
The centrepiece of the disc is Beall’s 30-minute Quintet for piano and strings, inspired by the instrumentation of Schubert’s Trout Quintet but using the double bass as much more than a subwoofer. Andrew Kohn’s plaintive reading of the slow movement’s bittersweet main melody, for example, seems entirely appropriate to WS Merwin’s bleak poem about winter on which the movement is based. Overall, the performance by pianist James Miltenberger and Beall’s colleagues from the University makes a passionate case for lovely music that probably fares best when heard in its natural academic habitat.
The Quintet is bookended by two works for viola and piano, an earnest Viola Sonata written for Randolph Kelly and an earnest set of variations on a well-known hymn tune ‘Wondrous Love’, both delivered with industry and occasional eloquence by the composer’s son Stephen Beall, and a wonderful sense of colour and fantasy by the composer’s wife Carol Beall. Despite the West Virginia connection, the excellent booklet-notes are incongruously contributed by Pennsylvania State University professor Steven Herbert Smith. Laurence Vittes talks to... Kenneth Fuchs How Don DeLillo’s 9/11 novel inspired the composer’s new work
Where were you on 9/11 and how did you hear the news? I was at home finishing breakfast. The television was on and all news channels began reporting on the first aircraft to hit the World Trade Center. As I watched, along with millions of other people, the second aircraft exploded into the South Tower.
When you read Don DeLillo’s novel, did musical inspiration come quickly? For several years, I had been feeling the need to respond to 9/11 in music. Reading the prologue to Falling Man, I knew I had found the creative impetus for what I wanted to write. DeLillo’s unflinching prose, describing the terror and chaos at Ground Zero, immediately inspired musical ideas.
How soon did you realise what sort of piece you’d write? DeLillo’s protagonist becomes everyman as he experiences the burning twin towers tumbling around him. That character immediately suggested a single human voice collectively supported by a symphony orchestra.
Have you tackled a 12-tone treatment (even if not strictly applied) before? Yes. While a student, I spent several years wrestling with 12-tone composition, but eventually concluded that it wasn’t the way
Fuchs Falling Man. Movie House. Songs of Innocence and of Experience Roderick Williams bar London Symphony Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta Naxos American Classics B 8 559753 (62’ • DDD • T)
I wanted to write. Although my music is predominantly tonal, I do write in non-tonal idioms when appropriate to the musical and emotional ideas of a piece. Tonality is about resolving dissonance but the tragedy of 9/11, which called into question all the norms of Western civilisation, is still unresolved. Tonality would have been too limiting.
You’ve developed quite a rapport with the LSO. Are they part of your creative process? Absolutely. When I write for orchestra, I hear the sound of the LSO, which inspires me. I also think of individual players and write parts to keep them engaged and to share their exceptional musicianship with listeners. When I composed my viola concerto Divinum mysterium for principal viola player Paul Silverthorne, he collaborated with me throughout the process, suggesting more idiomatic ways to write for the viola and contributing musical ideas for me to explore. Having recorded four discs with the LSO during the past decade, I appreciate the orchestra’s immense contribution to my growth as a composer.
The winning songcycles by Kenneth Fuchs on this new disc show how far the gramophone.co.uk
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